The first day of Madrid Fusión Alimentos de España 2021 saw the convergence of pioneers from different countries and different generations, but united in their pursuit of a different path.
Proving that circular gastronomy doesn’t mean on thing, but takes the shape of very many different approaches among chefs, the first day of the world’s leading gastronomy congress gathered chefs with a common aim to promote mindful behaviour in gastronomy but in different ways.
Ángel León, the chef of Aponiente in Cádiz, has long been known as a tireless explorer of the sea and all it has to offer. In previous years León has shared discoveries and innovations that few could imagine during his presentations.
This year is no different, as he chose the key event to reveal to the world his latest discovery – the cultivation of a Zostera marina, a little known plant that grows in the bay of Cadiz near Aponiente. When León and his team of marine biologists discovered a grain within the plant, they realised they had come upon a product that is both highly nutritious and crucial to biodiversity.
The marine grain, described as a hybrid of rice and quinoa, is incredible versatile.
León came on stage with marine biologist Juán Martin who earlier this year travelled to Mexico, invite by the Seri tribe who has a long tradition of cooking with the grain.
León has called this discovery of a cereal in the sea his most beautiful and important yet, with huge potential to make an impact on the world.
“The truth is that one of the dreams we have that we had – and we continue to have – is to create seed bank and with that we could perhaps sow in different areas, in Andalucía, and Africa where the conditions are perfect.” he said.
In the second part of his presentation, he shared the latest step in his quest to develop marine charcuterie. The marine ham, made with the belly of the Almadraba Bluefin tuna, looks like a ham and has undergone the process to taste like it.
“Sometimes it seems like everything has been done already; the Japanese have always cut it thinly; for us the difficult part was to cure it,” said León.
A pioneer of a different kind, Flynn McGarry, without doubt among the youngest chefs to appear at this year’s conference, started cooking as a child when his parents installed a kitchen in his bedroom at his request. Teaching himself to cook, he went on to open a supper club aged 14 and later opened his first permanent restaurant in New York City when he was 19 years old.
Having carved a path for himself – and shown the way for other young people who would like to follow in his footsteps – today he heads up the kitchen in Gem, his restaurant in the Lower East Side of New York City.
McGarry has intentionally pushed a vegetable first menu at his restaurant – here the animal protein plays a supporting role. As he shared two of his signature dishes on stage at Madrid Fusión Alimentos de España – a fruit ceviche and a plant-based version of the classic veal schnitzel, here made of cabbage and morel mushrooms – he said cooking in this style had made him reconsider the traditional flow of a restaurant meal.
“It changed the way I thought of the end of a meal,” he said. “In a tasting menu you usually end on a piece of meat or fish and this one vegetable dish had more flavour and more intensity than any fish or meat. Looking at another vegetable, not as a side dish but something that can taste bigger than a piece of fish or meat.”
León and McGarry were followed by Spanish chef Rodrigo de la Calle who has spent the past 20 years pursuing a mission to promote and celebrate vegetable-first cuisine.
With his Gastrobotanica project, first presented to Madrid Fusión Alimentos de España over 11 years ago, he has set out to rescue and preserve extinct or nearly extinct varieties of fruits and vegetables. He has been at the vanguard of the plant-based movement and inspired countless numbers of chefs.
Continuing to set standards and inspire colleagues at Madrid Fusión Alimentos de España de la Calle unveiled a technique to make demi-glace without the use of animal protein. It is a process he and his team have worked to perfect over the past eight years and proudly presented as yet another innovation in their mission to elevate plant-based cuisine.